Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Stowaway Princess: Beauty's Daughter: The Story of Hermione and Helen of Troy by Carolyn Meyer

"They will sail to Troy, and there will be much bloodshed," Zethus predicted. "Menelaus will certainly want to get Helen back. As for the goddesses Hera and Athena will be on the side of the Greeks, but Aphrodite will help Paris as much as she  can. The war is likely to last for a long time."

"Where is Queen Helen? Where is my brother?" I shouted.

The boatmen stared uneasily at their feet. "They're with the Trojan prince. They boarded the ship with the figure of Aphrodite and Eros on the prow. They sailed eastward."

Eleven-year-old Hermione has always known that her beautiful mother, Helen, Queen of Sparta, has little interest in her, but when  the queen falls in love with the visiting Prince Paris and flees to Troy, taking Hermione's beloved little brother with her, Hermione determines that she will stowaway on a ship in her father's fleet and follow King Menelaus and his Greek allies to war on the shores of the great walled city of Troy.

As her loyal friend and servant Zethus prophesied, the war drags on for ten years. Hermione and her cousin, Orestes, to whom she was betrothed by their grandfather, grow up in the Greek camp on the shores of Troy.  When at last Zethus designs the Wooden Horse, the Greeks  gain entrance to the Trojan city. Paris is killed by Achilles, Achilles is killed by an archer's arrow to his vulnerable heel, and Menelaus reclaims his Helen. But Orestes and Hermione are separated as the fleets depart for their homes, and Menalaus rewards Achilles' son Pyrrhus for his service by promising Hermione to him as his wife.

Longing for Orestes and unhappily married to the brutal Pyrrhus, Hermione is miserable in his long-abandoned and shabby palace at Pharsalos. She loves only Orestes, but when she fails to bear the son Pyrrhus demands of her, he spitefully takes her two handmaidens as concubines who give him a son and daughter.

But Hermione has good fortune in her bad fortune. The loyal Zethus finds her, and when Pyrrhus is killed by a rival, with the assistance of the god Hermes they escape to the coast where she learns that Orestes has arrived at home to discover that his unfaithful mother, Clytemnestra, has murdered his father Agamemnon.  In a rage Orestes kills his mother in retribution and, tortured by the Furies for the sin of  matricide, loses his mind and his memories and is imprisoned on a distant island.

Still, the resourceful Hermione believes that she can find her love and restore him to health, if the gods will it, and she sets forth on her own quest, in Carolyn Meyer's forthcoming Beauty's Daughter: The Story of Hermione and Helen of Troy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).  Meyer, the queen of queen fiction, has a talent for telling a compelling personal love story, while taking the reader deeply into early Hellenic history  in which the story is set.  The story of Helen of Troy is the world's first great romance tale, the story of the stunningly beautiful but unfaithful queen who claimed herself to be Aphrodite's pawn and whose face "launched a thousand ships" as chronicled in Homer's Iliad.  Meyer tells that epic story tangentially as she focuses on Helen's unloved, red-haired daughter Hermione, whose own romance, in the face of unfortunate history and the mischief of the gods, offers a counterpoint of devotion and resilience to her mother's fickle infidelities, making the self-reliant Hermione the center of the swirling events of the world's first great love story and first great war.

Middle readers who grew up with Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians adventure series and into young adult status will find some familiar Olympian characters but a different sort of historical fantasy in Carolyn Meyers forthcoming Olympian romance novel.

Other notable young royal novels by Carolyn Meyer include The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals) (see review here), Mary, Bloody Mary, The Bad Queen: Rules and Instructions for Marie-Antoinette (Young Royals), Doomed Queen Anne: A Young Royals Book, and The Royal Diaries: Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914.

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  • Thank you for your very thorough--and complimentary--review. After writing so many books about actual historical figures, I had quite a challenge pulling together all those ancient myths into a narrative that would make some kind of sense to today's young readers. And you GOT IT! Wonderful.

    --Carolyn, "the queen of queen fiction" (I love that!)

    By Blogger Carolyn, at 5:26 PM  

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